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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

E. coli O157:H7 Bologna Linked to BJ’s Wholesale Club

Screen shot 2011-03-25 at 2.33.08 PM.pngIt is looking like a second dance with BJ’s is in the offing.  The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service just released the list of retail establishments that may have received E. coli contaminated bologna that has been recalled by Palmyra Bologna Company.  The bad bologna, which has caused at least 14 confirmed illnesses in Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, was distributed to the following stores and states:

•    BJ’s Wholesale Club (New Jersey): 1910 Deptford Center Road (Deptford NJ), and 152 Route 73 (Voorhees, NJ)

•    BJ’s Wholesale Club (North Carolina):  2370 Walnut St., Cary, NC

•    BJ’s Wholesale Club (PA):  1785 Airport Road, South, Allentown, PA

With illnesses also in Ohio and Maryland, I would expect to see the list expand over the next few days.  Several years ago, we were involved with several E. coli O157:H7 cases in New York and New Jersey against BJ’s and its meat suppliers.  One case resolved for $11,000,000.

One wonders if this outbreak will have implications on BJ’s possible sale.

  • John Munsell

    Should BJ’s be held responsible for sicknesses suffered by its consumers who purchased Lebanon Bologna from BJ’s? What control does BJ’s have over the wholesomeness of incoming meat purchased from Palmyra? Should BJ’s, and all other retailers/wholesalers who purchase food products from manufacturers be required to test all incoming foods? And who should be responsible to implement corrective actions to prevent recurrences? As long as our “science based” government policies continue to focus on downstream entities such as BJ’s, while adroitly avoiding forcing the SOURCE to clean up its act, we are virtually guaranteed ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls. John Munsell

  • Good question John – Answer is that BJ’s will unlikely be liable for illnesses associated with ready to eat bologna, unless the bologna maker goes bankrupt. Since BJ’s is not a manufacturer, it is not strictly liable. This is unlike the last time I sued them (it was hamburger they ground in store). There they were a manufacturer. IF they could have shown what supplier supplied the E. coli-tainted beef, they could have pushed liability off on them. However, BJ’s record keeping was so bad, it was impossible for BJ’s to figure it out.

  • John Munsell

    Thanks for your reply Bill. Your answer clearly elucidates that meat plants are entering a new phase in preparing for potential outbreaks, in that for their own protection, they need to maintain accurate grinding logs showing the sources of all ground beef they produce.
    This does create a double edged sword for grinders. Plants cannot efficiently wash and sanitize their grinding equipment between each grind, because plants may grind dozens of batches in one day. And, meat for these batches can emanate from a variety of source slaughter providers. Since residual bacteria from one batch can linger around, and cross contaminate subsequent batches, the only way to create biologically distinct batches would be to fully clean and sanitize before every new batch. A nightmare in the making.
    Hopefully, calm voices can prevail, and devise production strategies which not only protect public health, but enable legitimate firms to produce efficiently. The only obvious alternative which I see, and which countless plants have already implemented, is to permanently discontinue grinding. Unfortunately, most plants depend on grinding as an essential part of their revenue flow. If small plants discontinue grinding, we will then have only the huge packer/processors from whom to purchase burger. When that happens, and an outbreak occurs, it will be interesting to see whom FSIS will target for enforcement actions, since the small plants no longer grind.
    We are witnessing history being made.
    John Munsell